March 17th, 2003

The Premiere OnLine Magazine for the Fly Fishing Enthusiast.
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A Few Thoughts On February
By Eric Hardin

There isn't a name for the time in between the last wing-shooting of winter and the first casts of spring. Time during February seems to turn to molasses, creeping slow and cold out of the earth. Sure, there may be a warm day here and there, but these are cruel. Soon, the freezing rain and dour skies snuff the hope that grew on that precious sunny afternoon. You know and I know that, at least for fishermen, February is a month to be endured.

My fishing license was about to expire so I went to the store to buy a new one. I have a fear that the first day of March will break warm and sunny and my old license will be of no use and that through some cosmic fluke the store where I buy my license will be closed. You see, I can't buy my fishing license from a department store. I have to go to a mom and pop general store. My license have always been bought at a place with wooden floors and items that have been on the shelf long enough to qualify them for a place on the antiques road show. The kind of store with cheap lures hanging on cardboard. All the better if a grumpy person is manning the ancient register. Superstition, not snobbery drives me to this. All of this, I'm convinced, energizes the fish karma. Besides, who wants to buy so sacred a document as the combination hunting and fishing license from a place that ends in "mart."

After laying down the cash for my license I drove home, past the swollen brown river. Only the promise of fishing existed, stamped onto the colored sheet of paper folded into my wallet. Somewhere, sometime there will be a spring and my valid license will open the door to many a mornings of rising fish. But now, the fish sat suspended among the chocolate colored water, barely moving, just breathing, silent beneath the leafless trees. Patches of dirty snow hang onto the north slopes of the hills. All is mud and slush. But, there is much to do.

I go home and tie flies and piddle with my equipment. Great swaths of burrs cover my waders, left over from the finale of duck season. I dutifully pick them off, recalling that day in the marsh and the numerous duck lives my dog saved. She has the art of revealing herself just as the flocks begin to wheel overhead. I sit and tie bass bugs and smallmouth flies. I'm not an expert tier. I don't have any famous patterns. I just like to trim the hair, glue the little eyes on, and imagine that artificial critter chugging through the cool spring water. I clean my fly lines then nail knot new leaders to each. But most of the time I sip a beer and look out the window into the season between seasons. February is the time for putting away my upland vest and pulling out my fishing vest. February is an end and a beginning.

Despite the efforts of my kerosene heater the garage is still cold. When I go into the house my wife is reading. My infant daughter plays on the floor among a small pile of toys. My 3 year old son stands next to the goldfish tank with his toy rod and reel. He casts a length of colored yarn over and over. "I fish, Daddy. I fish." He says and smiles. He lets me cast a few times. I suddenly realize the warmth of our house, the value of its walls against the cold, and what my wife means when she says "February is time for the inside." Maybe these frigid months aren't just to be endured, but cherished.

Yet, there are seasons ahead of the gloom of February. Mornings spent standing in the river, casting poppers for smallies. Long, warm days filled with the sounds of oars in the water. A young boy and his first real fish, dangling and alive at the end of his line, wait for me sometime in May or June. ~ EH

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